Europe’s Last Pristine River Is at Risk: Hydropower Dams Threaten Natural Resources

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One of the last truly wild rivers in all of Europe is in serious danger. Albania’s Vjosa River, the largest pristine river in Europe, is of enormous ecological importance, and runs a sprawling 300 kilometers from the Adriatic Sea to the mountains of Greece. There are no artificial barriers along the river: it is not home to any hydroelectric dams, or water treatment facilities. The river is wild, pristine and untouched.

And, indeed, the Albanian people have deep cultural ties to the river, which they want to see preserved in its current state. Polling suggests that some 96 percent of people in the country would prefer to see the river turned into a national park, a reserve to keep the river in its natural state. As home to over 1,100 unique wildlife species, the river plays a critical role in Europe’s ecology.

However, many multinational companies are pushing to install hydroelectric dams along the river to harvest power from the rushing water. Albanian leaders have suggested that they will oppose the construction and instead establish a National Park, but some citizens in the country feel these are just promises made to satisfy current popular outcry.

Outcry Buoyed by Brands, Celebs

Famous celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio and brands like Patagonia have spoken out publicly about the situation, expressing support for a national park in the region. The international attention drawn by this initiative has brought credence to groups like EcoAlbania, EuroNatur and RiverWatch, all of which have launched new campaigns to keep the dams out of the river.

Patagonia’s campaign claims that, while hydroelectric power is renewable and does not pollute the air, the artificial barriers that the dams create on the rivers cause ecological devastation. While hydroelectric is more reliable and consistent than solar or wind power, it also doesn’t create nearly as much power as some would expect for the ecological impact it has.

Green Energy

Europe is largely shifting to green energy across the board as the EU fights to preserve the region in the face of looming global climate change. Of course, renewable energy is just one part of that. Other initiatives include eco-friendly practices, like cutting back on pollution and, indeed, not building infrastructure that will have an outsized impact on the ecology of a region.

Europe is at a crossroads, where the switch to green energy and sustainable living is critical. However, doing so without impacting the environment negatively is a tough tightrope to walk.